Boats & Gear

FOLDING RIB DINGHY: The Best of Both Worlds in an Inflatable Tender?

FRIB 265

We have discussed dinghies before, in a global sense, and I’ve also made it known that I personally prefer roll-up inflatables, primarily because they are easy to stow. But I’m always on the look-out for a better tender, so I spent a little time checking out these new F-RIB boats that were on display in Annapolis in the fall. They struck me as well built, neatly engineered, with impressive specs and pricing. The smallest boat in the range is 9 feet (see image up top), which is the size I always go for, and it weighs just 79 pounds and sells for $2,995.

The idea of a fold-up rigid inflatable is not exactly new. I test-sailed one that Steve Callahan designed almost 20 years ago, which he also called a FRIB (a rather obvious acronym), so I’m wondering if he’s feeling infringed upon. You’ll also find a folding RIB in the West Marine catalogue. But Steve doesn’t make his boats anymore (I don’t think he sold more than a dozen or so), and they were pretty specialized. The hard glass hull was narrow and high-sided, to help make it both sailable and rowable, and it really behaved like a hard dinghy with sponsons. It was quick, but it wasn't quite as stable as a conventional inflatable.

The West Marine boat meanwhile is shaped more like a conventional inflatable, with the added stability you expect from an inflatable, but has a very flat bottom, without the deep-V contour that gives a RIB much of its performance advantage. It is also made of PVC fabric, which degrades pretty quickly in the sun. This is one of the challenges of building a quality folding RIB. Hypalon--the preferred material for inflatable sponsons, due to its durability and UV-resistance--quickly breaks down if it is repeatedly creased in the exact same place.

Yet another important point: both Steve’s old boat and the West Marine boat are quite heavy, and only fold in half, so they are still not nearly as stowable as a roll-up boat.

These new F-RIBs seem to resolve all these problems. They are true inflatables, with inflatable stability, and they do have deep-V hulls, like true RIBs. They also fold into thirds, hence are nearly as compact as roll-up boats when broken down. The hard hulls are fiberglass, and the fabric parts are Mirasol, a specially treated PVC fabric that, unlike most PVC material, is highly UV-resistant. The boats appear to be easy to assemble and tear down, with no tools required, as the hull sections are clipped together with simple wing-nuts.

Folded FRIB

A 9-foot F-RIB 275 folded down on the foredeck of a modest cruising sailboat

FRIB joint

How the joints work, with a male protrusion fitting into a female concavity to help keep things rigid (yeah, yeah, I can hear you out there, snickering like Beavis and Butthead)

FRIB fastener

Wing-nut fasteners should make it quick to assemble and disassemble

FRIB sailing

There are five different models ranging from 9 to 16 feet. And yes! The 16-footer can be ordered with a sailing rig!

FRIB electric

This is one of the boats I saw in Annapolis. Never needs winding! (Or refueling)

I’ll be very interested to see how these little boats fare in the marketplace. I understand Swan and Oyster are already offering them as tenders for their new boats, so maybe folding RIBs really are ready to hit the big-time.

MEANWHILE back in the SALT MINES. Very sorry for the long hiatus since my last post. I’ve been working on my damn book again:

Book cover

Just handed in the final manuscript copy!

You guys better buy this when it comes out (soon!), or I’ll never forgive you. Even worse, I may have to start charging money for all this blog content.

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